Foreign Policy: India’s Role is Key in Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy

May 18, 2018

Asia Pacific Bulletin No. 424

India’s Role is Key for Including Central Asia in Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy

By Shutaro Sano

Central Asia has become an increasingly important region for the international community including Japan. Tokyo initially pursued bilateral relationships with each of Central Asian country through its “Silk Road Diplomacy” in the late 1990s, but started to strengthen the relationships by initiating the multilateral “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue in 2004. Since then, Japan has striven to become a “catalyst” for regional cooperation that would enable the Central Asian countries to achieve “open, stable and autonomous development.”

Image result for Shinzo Abe and Nerendra Modi


A more developed and secure Central Asia is also expected to provide Tokyo with a reliable alternative source of energy supply such as oil, natural gas and rare earth metals including uranium. Japan’s growing acknowledgement of Central Asia was highlighted by Prime Minister Abe’s visit in October 2015, when he became the first Japanese leader to visit all five Central Asian countries.

Today, Japan’s cooperation covers a broad range of areas, including regional security arrangements (nuclear non-proliferation, countering terrorism and narcotics), trade and investment, development (disaster reduction and maternal and child health), and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Notably, cooperation in energy and socio-economic infrastructure has been the immediate priority for Tokyo as strengthening the connectivity inside and outside Central Asia would enhance overall regional development, thereby promoting stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific as a whole.

Yet Japan’s involvement in the landlocked region has been marginal compared to countries such as Russia and China. The gross disbursement of Japan’s ODA to the Central Asia and the Caucasus, for instance, has increased over the years, but it accounted for only 2.5 percent of the total ODA in 2015. In this respect, India, which seeks to play a more active role with Japan through the Special Strategic and Global Partnership, has become a promising partner for Tokyo.

New Delhi not only shares civilizational heritage with Central Asia from the Mughal period, but also has been more engaged in regional cooperation and security arrangements through its “Connect Central Asia Policy.” Indeed, the development of Iran’s Chabahar port and Afghanistan’s Zaranj-Delaram Highway, in which India played a critical role with the support of Japan, have begun to provide Tokyo and New Delhi valuable access to energy-rich Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan bypassing Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s proposal to integrate land routes in Central Asia with the International North-South Transport Corridor, to which Japan could also contribute, would expand the geographical scope of connectivity to include not only Central Asia, Caucasus and South Asia but also Europe.

However, Japan’s engagement in Central Asia faces challenges. First, Japan needs to balance its policies towards Central Asia and China in a very sensitive manner with India in mind. This is particularly important as Tokyo is now willing to cooperate, under certain conditions, with China’s $1 trillion cross-border infrastructure development project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative, which includes the development of Central Asia, poses considerable challenges to New Delhi, which clearly sees the BRI as part of Beijing’s long-term strategy to contain India; notably with the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Furthermore, the dominance of China and the presence of Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may limit India’s role in the organization. Therefore, Tokyo would need to alleviate New Delhi’s concerns by, for example, linking its own regional connectivity efforts with the BRI with an aim to strengthen regional integration in the Indo-Pacific as a whole rather than any projects that could be seen as isolating any specific country including India.

Second, Japan is entering an already-crowded region of competition including regional rivalries such as between Russia and China. So far, China has adroitly refrained from developing an extensive hard security footprint in the region, but the regional imbalance of power has widened significantly in favor of Beijing as China’s trade with the five Central Asian countries spiked over the past decade, nearly doubling the amount of Russia’s by 2016. Meanwhile, Iran has also become more involved with the region as it reportedly seeks to build a “Persian axis” in the heart of Central Asia as well as to stop the flow of Afghan illegal drugs. Furthermore, the Central Asian countries have not necessarily been on the same page as illustrated by the energy inequality among the regional states as well as by membership in the SCO; in which Turkmenistan refuses to become a member.

In light of these events, Japan would need to avoid becoming embroiled in the new “Great Game” which also includes the United States, and continue its low-profile political engagement which has been welcomed by the regional states. Specifically, Japan should exert its effort exclusively in strengthening regional connectivity without developing strategic ambitions in Central Asia. It is also important that Japan continue to refrain from imposing democratic reforms to the Central Asian countries as a condition for economic cooperation.

Third, Japan will need to give considerable attention to the security conditions not only in Central Asia but also in Afghanistan. After gaining membership in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 2007, Afghanistan has become a potentially vital economic hub connecting Central and South Asia in trade, transport and energy. Kabul also lies at the center of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program which links markets in 11 countries with six corridors.

However, the fight against the Three Evil Forces (terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism) remains a huge challenge for regional integration as well as Japan and India’s involvement in Central Asia. Therefore, Japan together with India would need to continue its engagement in Afghan reconstruction and help Kabul fill the security vacuum that may be exploited by armed groups. Meanwhile, Japan and India need to pay substantial attention so that cooperation in Afghanistan will not jeopardize the India-Pakistan relationship.

Given the growing significance of Central Asian, it is essential that Japan strengthen its policy towards the region by seeking greater cooperation with India. Consequently, this will promote Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” which aims to provide assistance to the region’s long-term stability and sustainable development. Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” is not just applicable to the vast maritime space, but also to the Eurasian landmass of Central Asia.

Shutaro Sano is Professor and Deputy Director at the Center for International Exchange, in the National Defense Academy of Japan. He can be contacted at


APB Series Founding Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye | APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.


Making Sense of the Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Inheritance from the Past

May 10, 2018

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin

Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 423

Making Sense of the Indo-Pacific Strategy: An Inheritance from the Past

By Takuya Matsuda*

The term “Indo-Pacific” has gained wider currency as the Trump administration promotes the Indo-Pacific Strategy as its flagship policy towards the region. Since the substance of this strategy has yet to be made clear, one could easily make speculations that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is a “containment policy” towards China given the emphasis the new National Defense Strategy has given to great power competition.

However, a brief overview of this concept may offer a different narrative. It is worth highlighting here that this increasingly popularized term is nothing new. “Indo-Pacific” is a concept that emerged as a culmination of policy choices made since the mid-1990s to incorporate India into the US strategic framework in the Western Pacific and to encourage allies including Japan to upgrade their roles in international security. In other words, this concept, which originated in the mid-1990s, gained momentum in the 2000s, before Chinese maritime expansion started to challenge American primacy in the Western Pacific.

The strong defense relationship that Washington and Delhi enjoy today would not be possible without policy choices made by the Clinton and Bush administrations. The US tilt to India during the Kargil Crisis in 1999 is often cited as the first indicator of America’s interest in strengthening ties with India. The civilian nuclear deal negotiated and signed in the mid-2000s was also consequential in forging closer ties between the two nations by setting aside one of the contentious issues that complicated the relationship. These policy choices made in the 2000s were crucial in realizing the “Strategic Handshake” between the two nations with India’s “Act East” and the US “Rebalance” to Asia, which have made strong defense ties between the two nations increasingly visible since the Obama administration.

On the other hand, Japan’s resurgence as a proactive player in international security has occasionally been portrayed as a balancing strategy against China, often attributed to the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Balancing behavior is a relevant factor in explaining Japan’s security policy; however, it is also worth highlighting here that the origin of Japan’s proactive security policy can be found in the mid-1990s, before Chinese maritime expansion started to become a major concern for Japan’s national security. Tokyo’s embrace of a proactive security policy stems from its pursuit of international security in the post-Cold War era corresponding to Washington’s strategy. The initial motivation for Japan to reconsider its pacifist security policy was the criticism received for its “checkbook diplomacy” in the first Gulf War, which prompted Japan to seriously consider ways to contribute to international security in a more concrete manner, such as in Peace Keeping Operations (PKO). Chinese maritime expansion along with the looming challenge posed by North Korea also have certainly played a certain role in dictating Japanese security policy. However, it is noteworthy that the main motivation behind the Japanese reexamination of strategy has been to become a constructive contributor to international peace and stability.

The concept “Indo-Pacific” highlights a strategic framework, where these Asiatic powers—Japan and India — enhance their collaboration in the maritime domain. In fact, the term “Indo-Pacific” was first unveiled by Mr. Abe in front of Indian members of parliament in 2007 in a speech entitled as “Confluence of the Two Seas”. As he discussed the maritime connections between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, he used the expression “broader Asia (kakudai Asia)” as he encouraged India to be part of the Asian security framework. Mr. Abe has developed this idea into what he called “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, which advocated for stronger ties among the US, Japan, India, and Australia. These concepts have now evolved into the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”, which was announced by Mr. Abe at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) meeting held in Nairobi in August 2016.

These observations highlight how the concept behind the Indo-Pacific strategy demonstrates the constant effort policy-makers in Washington have made in maintaining a robust US presence in the region. In other words, the Indo-Pacific strategy is rather an inheritance from past U.S. administrations along with ideas produced by allies and like-minded nations in the post-Cold War era.

The current strategic environment tempts one to label this strategy as a containment policy against China. However, the intentions that shaped this concept in the past quarter century deserve some attention in making sense of this concept. The idea of Indo-Pacific emerged as Washington, Tokyo, and Delhi sought their role in preserving the status-quo in the post-Cold War era. The maritime nature of this concept, which is underscored by the fact that it involves the three participants of the Malabar Exercise, an annual trilateral naval exercise, illuminates this point.

Moreover, this concept underlines the evolving nature of America’s alliance network in the region. Moving beyond a bilateral-based system that put constraints on allies, this concept illustrates how a multilateral security network is emerging out of the existing hub-and-spokes system. This maritime-based security network based on the Indo-Pacific concept underscores a status-quo preservation mechanism instead of a mere balancing coalition, where US allies and defense partners play a major part in fulfilling that role.

The increasingly hybrid strategic environment in the South China Sea, for instance, indicates new challenges that the Indo-Pacific strategy will need to address. Nevertheless, as the Trump administration considers ways to add substance to their regional flagship policy, it is helpful to bear in mind that this is an inheritance from past administrations with an origin that could be traced to a period before Chinese maritime expansion started to challenge American primacy. A brief look at the evolution of this concept reveals a nuanced picture of how this seemingly new concept has developed as a means to preserve the status-quo in the Indo-Pacific, through enhanced maritime awareness in the post-Cold War era.

*Takuya Matsuda is a PhD student in War Studies at King’s College, London and has his MA from Johns Hopkins/SAIS. He can be contacted at
Click Here to view this piece on the East-West Center Website


APB Series Founding Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye | APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

Book Review: War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore

April 1, 2018

Book Review: War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore 

Image result for Book : War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore

Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack
Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2012. Pp. 459. Paper.

Reviewed by Sudarat Musikawong, Siena College, USA

War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore reveals how individual, communal, and state-crafted memory emerge in conflicting claims to post-colonial World War II national belonging that involve selective amnesia.  The authors argue that while Malay “deathscapes” remake the past into nationalist stories of Malay warriors, Singaporean state-craft incorporates a multiracial approach in which the ethnic Chinese sook ching massacre victims of the Japanese occupation came to stand in for collective suffering.  Blackburn and Hack provide careful explanation of prisons turned into tourist destinations, cenotaphs dedicated to soldiers killed, military cemeteries, memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers, commemorations, and monuments of battles support the argument.  Martial post-war memory does the cultural work of forming a sense of nation and belonging crafted through ethnic communal lens.  This book will be of most interest for those studying post-war memory in Southeast Asia, as well as comparative accounts of Japanese occupation.

The Malay Peninsula was a British colony with complex communal ethnic conflicts.  British-imported Indian and Chinese labour for the rubber and mineral industries economically displaced Malays from their resources.  However, British imperialism figures lightly in the book.  In the book, the Japanese invasion and occupation (1941-1945) are dominant post-war memories.  Because the Japanese war strategy was one of rapid conquest and development in their territories, the peoples living in the Malay Peninsula suffered enormously from Japanese repression, mass violence, and displacement in work camps to places like New Guinea and the Burma-Thailand Railway.  The authors demonstrate how numerous nationalist tensions emerged between Malay nationalists (both pro-capitalist and communist), Indian nationalists, Eurasians and British colonialists, and a fractured Chinese community (between capitalist and communist revolutionaries).  After WWII, while countries like Indonesia were able to wrestle away from Dutch rule, the Malays returned to British rule with a promise of eventual independence in 1957.  After a series of communal race riots between Malays and the Chinese in 1945-1946 and again in the 1960s, the peninsula split between Muslim-Malay rule of Malaysia and Sino-Malay establishment of Singapore.

These ethnic communal tensions, accompanied by Cold War contexts of anti-colonial nation-building and the minority status of Europeans and Indians in the peninsula contributed to a series of different episodes of forgetting and remembering.  For example, the Chinese Malayan Communist Party soldiers had a memorial unveiled on 1 September 1946 to commemorate the lives lost due to a Japanese ambush precisely four years earlier.  But with changing geopolitics, these communists shifted from hero-martyrs to villains.  The Malayan communists were plotting against the return of British rule, then against the Malay state.  The public was denied access to commemorations and the memorial was put in storage.  As communist insurgents, they were configured in public memory as undeserving of public memorials until 2003 when insurgency was no longer at issue [112,120, 278-279].  Another clear example would include how the suffering of Europeans is the subject of ‘Changi Prison tourism’ and championed by the Singapore Tourism Board [79-94]; but although imprisoned Indians had communal commemorations, they have no public site of memory in either country [180, 205-206]. These are the origins of literal nation-making that take place alongside the very different national memory projects of war-time suffering and heroism.

Image result for Mahathir looks to Japan

Mahathir put his experiences during the Japanese Occupation behind him when he initiated Look East Policy as he sought Japanese Investments

One of the challenges of studying memory is that over time, historical complexities and conflicts bring about many moving parts.  But Blackburn and Hack manage the multiple conflicting narratives by layering individual accounts, communal commemoration, and nation-state projects.  While the non-regional expert may be overwhelmed by the details in the first two sections, the “Nations and States” section is a fascinating account of how divergent Malaysian and Singaporean state-craft can be.  By the 1970s-1980s each country’s restructured economy became intertwined with Japanese investments and the demand for Japan to recognize and pay for its war crimes became more vexed and complicated.  Confronted by similar diplomatic pressures to maintain Japanese economic investments each treated Japan’s refusal to offer direct apologies for war-time atrocities and rape very differently—wilful amnesia in Malaysia, selective remembering in Singapore.  In Malaysia, the government’s marginalization of war-time suffering is suggested through Premier Mahathir’s ‘Look East Policy’.  The highlights of this policy included the unencumbered welcoming of Japanese direct investments in the Malay auto-industry, the 1980s exhuming of mass graves for development projects (rather than claims for restitution or recognition), and the Premier’s appeal for Japan to stop apologizing [258-260].  In contrast, the Singaporean state has promoted closely regimented massacre re-enactments, textbook projects, and state-sponsored commercial films, education, and war-tourism projects directed both at domestic and European and Australian tourism.  Of note, the over-enthusiasm of lay actors’ first re-enactment of Japanese war-time cruelties resulted in the traumatization of the entire group (most of whom where school children), physical injuries from being chased by the actors, and the hospitalization of several from the audience [305].

The book argues that both countries have marginalized the deaths and survivors of minor ethnic groups by focusing on the most politically and economically powerful groups.  For example, the following groups have been marginalized from state sponsored projects: the Burma-Thailand railway conscripts, of which 182,000 Asians and Eurasians (mostly Indian rubber tappers transplanted from the Malay peninsula) [199], tens of thousands of Indians sent to New Guinea in forced labour camps (of which 51% died due to harsh conditions and disease) [203], the losses of the communist Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (the MPAJA were mostly Chinese), and European heroes and victims of the Japanese occupation in Malaysia.  These omissions from dominant forms of post-war memory are unsurprising.  Outsiders to the region can imagine the difficulty the authors’ face in providing an all-encompassing account that avoids reproducing dominant hegemonic state narratives.  Scholars of war trauma have pointed to the importance of perspectives of perpetrators, gender analysis, and ethnic/racial minority identities in understanding strategic amnesia. And the book would benefit by including more discussion of Japanese, women’s, and Indian minority memories to examine the role of social amnesia and how it operates in nation-building projects.  War-time memory of soldiers and “freedom fighters” are figures of sacrifice, martyrdom, and heroism are incorporated into Malay nation-building projects.  In contrast, Singapore co-opts suffering as a unifying force [340-341]. To kill for independence from the Japanese is an honor for the sake of the post-colonial nation, but to die in work camps or massacres requires a restorative justice that leaves room to question the ambivalence of collaboration with the Japanese occupation or British colonialism.  One of the most important accomplishments of the book is that it leads to scholars toward new directions in social forgetting by focusing on what is not included in state commemorations and memorial projects.

Download PDF of this review


ASEAN is a crucial balancing force in Asia for the United States

April 1, 2018

Foreign Policy: ASEAN is a crucial balancing force in Asia for the United States

by Gary Clyde Hufbauer,Peterson Institute for International Economics

Image result for ASEAN and China


At the APEC Summit in November 2017, US President Donald Trump declared, ‘We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore … I am always going to put America first’.


Considering Trump’s ‘America First’ philosophy and his disdain for past trade agreements — sentiments proclaimed at the Da Nang APEC summit and on numerous other occasions — it’s reasonable to conclude that ASEAN plays no role in Trump’s world view. But Trump is President for a defined term. His views on US relations with the rest of the world neither represent mainstream opinion nor define the importance of ASEAN to the United States.

ASEAN, in fact, is vitally important to the United States for several reasons.Perhaps most importantly, ASEAN has successfully pursued good politics alongside good economics. At its inception in 1967, ASEAN was intended to put an end to guerrilla conflicts between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Owing in large measure to ASEAN, those conflicts have long since been relegated to the history books.

Today ASEAN serves both as an economic partner with China and as a bulwark against incremental Chinese expansion. None of the ASEAN countries individually carries much heft in geopolitical contests but collectively they represent a considerable force. The United States badly needs regional powers that can counterbalance China’s growing geopolitical footprint. The three most important powers in this respect are India, Japan and ASEAN.

Image result for ASEAN and Donald Trump

India’s Prime Minister Modi with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Malaysian PM Najib Razak in Manila. (ANI)

ASEAN has also fostered the explosive growth of supply chains, both among its members and with outside powers, notably China, the United States, Japan and Europe. No one in 1967 thought much about supply chains. Trade was dominated by natural resources on the one hand (such as oil, copper and other commodities) and finished products made by vertically integrated firms on the other (including clothing, furniture, steel and turbines).

The supply chain revolution has enabled the magic of comparative advantage to operate on a far grander scale since each component — of a good or a service — can now be produced or assembled in the best location. The revolution has greatly benefited the United States with less expensive footwear, TVs, computers, smart phones and many other products.

ASEAN’s success has served as a paradigm for troubled regions elsewhere. The United States has grown weary of its erstwhile role as ‘policeman of the world’, but fortunately the need for this service is greatly diminished when neighbouring countries get along. An immensely successful regional grouping, patterned after ASEAN, is the Pacific Alliance that joins Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico.

Groupings in Africa are less successful. The Arab Maghreb Union is perhaps the least successful, joining only on paper the North African states from Morocco to Libya. ASEAN can pride itself on providing a model for successful regional groups elsewhere and being an aspiration for the less successful groups.

ASEAN Summit meetings, at which leaders dialogue with external powers such as China, Europe, Japan, India, Australia and the United States, make it much easier for US political leaders to hold productive meetings with their regional counterparts. The time of senior ministers is their scarcest resource. The ability of US Secretaries of Commerce, State, Treasury and other departments to meet with all the leaders of Southeast Asia in a single week is highly valued.

Image result for ASEAN and Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen in Manila (2017)

Future ASEAN integration could provide a strong lure for future US Presidents to reconsider membership in the renewed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Three ASEAN members — Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam — are already members of the CPTPP. Conceivably, over the next five years, the CTTPP will expand to include Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and perhaps one or two other ASEAN members.

Future US Presidents will have to reconsider the political and economic losses resulting from self-inflicted exclusion from such a powerful bloc. The case for US membership will be strengthened if the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is concluded between China, India, all of ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

By enlarging trade between its members, ASEAN has significantly raised standards of living across Southeast Asia. The United States prospers when the rest of the world prospers. The global expansion of trade and investment over the past 70 years has made an enormous contribution to levels of well being worldwide, especially in Asia.

Indeed, according to the pioneering analysis by Angus Maddison of economic growth over the very long term, the post-World War II period has been the best in human history. As part of this advance, ASEAN has dramatically improved the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of its people.

ASEAN leaders and observers should look beyond the shadow of neglect emanating from the current administration in Washington. Over the longer term, there can be no doubt as to the importance of ASEAN not only for US geopolitical goals in Asia but also for US prosperity through economic interdependence.

Gary Clyde Hufbauer is a Reginald Jones Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington DC.

This article appeared in the most recent version of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Why ASEAN Matters’.

Japan buckles up to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

March 24, 2018

Japan buckles up to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

by Shutaro Sano, NDA

Image result for Shinzo Abe backs BRI with China

BRI would definitely benefit Japan but it also poses political challenges  for Shinzo Abe’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy

In June 2017 the Japanese government suddenly reversed its original position on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and announced that Japan would cooperate and provide financial backing for the US$1 trillion cross-border infrastructure development project.


The extent of Japan’s cooperation remains to be seen, but this move may help Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe realise his ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’.

Engaging with the BRI allows Tokyo to pursue some of its important economic goals through greater overseas infrastructure investment. The Initiative may also motivate Japanese companies to seek greater business opportunities along the BRI route. Japan’s own regional connectivity projects can complement the BRI and strengthen regional integration in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan’s support for the BRI is likely to enhance the efficiency of both China and Japan’s ongoing infrastructure projects due to their overlapping functional areas like energy conservation, the advancement of industry and the distribution of goods. There is huge potential for cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing to help deliver more rapid and sustainable growth given the region’s high demand for infrastructure. Japan and China may also be able to use this opportunity to improve their bilateral relationship, including by resuming high-level visits and winding down existing tensions in the East and South China Seas.

But it will be difficult for Japanese companies to compete with their Chinese counterparts, which can offer cheaper prices and quicker delivery of infrastructure projects. The BRI also poses political challenges for Japan. Countries in the Indo-Pacific need to avoid trade wars, but trade and economic cooperation with China must remain governed by the rules of the existing liberal order if the benefits are to be shared.

A number of countries including the United States, Russia, Australia and India have already become skeptical about Beijing’s intentions. New Delhi sees the BRI as likely to contain India’s own regional ambitions and security. Countries such as Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia and even Pakistan have started to turn down major BRI projects offered by China due to concerns over their validity and project delays.

Another obstacle is the precarious security environment along parts of the BRI route. Afghanistan remains unstable despite years of military intervention and political and economic support. Iran has become a vital transport and logistics hub for the Initiative and has long been of vital importance to Japan and India due to its oil and the development of Chabahar port. But relations with Iran have been made difficult by Iran’s long-standing differences with the United States and its own domestic problems.

Image result for Shinzo Abe backs BRI with China


The BRI still has the potential to establish a new global economic centre of gravity. For Japan, China remains not only an important trade partner, but also a country with which Japan could construct a ‘Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests’. Japan’s cooperation on the BRI depends largely on Tokyo’s ability to find a way to strengthen regional economic connectivity without endangering the present geopolitical architecture on which Japan’s own security interests continue to rest.

To do this, Tokyo should, together with Australia and India, ensure that the United States maintains its geopolitical presence in the Indo-Pacific region and that the Japan–US alliance continues to function as the cornerstone of regional peace and stability.

Japan must focus on the quality and affordability of the various infrastructure projects it funds. Tokyo can seek stronger international support in shaping economic public goods like the BRI by supporting the involvement of likeminded countries in regional groupings — India’s membership of APEC, for example.

The BRI must become a more inclusive initiative. Japan should ensure that the funding and implementation of BRI projects are based on international standards and rules. Japan may be able to contribute to this by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Tokyo must also continue strengthening relations with like-minded countries to demonstrate their opposition to any attempt to change the status quo by force. The ‘Quad’ countries — Japan, the United States, Australia and India — have been discussing the establishment of a joint regional infrastructure project as an alternative to the BRI. Yet the four countries each have different geopolitical calculations, as indicated by their failure to produce a joint statement during their November 2017 dialogue.

Japan must be pragmatic and continue strengthening its bilateral strategic partnerships with Australia and India rather than becoming overly focused on the Quad. Japan–ASEAN relations require improvement, as these countries are also deeply involved in the BRI. Tokyo also needs to increase domestic support for its involvement in the BRI.

Whether or not Japan’s decision to support the BRI will bear fruit depends on how deeply Tokyo chooses to engage with the Initiative. This will largely be determined by how well its members, especially China, can manage the challenges that the BRI faces.

In any event, the Abe government needs to establish sufficient political groundwork with the United States, Australia and India if it and its partners want to have a serious voice on how the BRI develops.

Shutaro Sano is Professor and Deputy Director at the Center for International Exchange, National Defense Academy of Japan.

A version of this article was first published here by the Australian Institute of International Affairs.


US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

March 16, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

by John C Hulsman*

Related image

If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

Image result for trump and rocket man

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

Image result for Kim Jong Un

“Kim Jong-un’s dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.”–John C Hulsman

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

*John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and the author of To Dare More Boldly (Princeton University Press, 2018).